And not all retailers are convinced that digital currency is the best solution for c-store operators. “For our industry, we want customers to hand us money,” says Jenny Bullard, CIO of Flash Foods Inc., a 170-store chain based in Waycross, Ga. The company did a soft launch of its c-store app this fall, which includes a mobile-payment option.
“With such technology as virtual money, we would be adding cost for processing to that tender,” she says. “This technology to me would be best used and received with retailers who have a big online sales presence.”
Still, the larger question will be what consumers will ultimately decide to do. In addition to enticing people to change their credit- and debit-card habits, another big hurdle keeping cash alive is what Wolman called the “pain of spending.” Spending a $100 bill is different from swiping a debit card. People still fear overspending. But technology can address that, he said. For example, one start-up allows people to plan ahead and tie a budget of their own making to their credit limits. If later, in a moment of weakness, a person wants to buy a round of martinis at a party, the register at the bar will decline the charge. Such opportunities may emerge to break this remaining barrier.
“In the end, it doesn’t matter if cash goes extinct,” Wolman said. “The more profound and greater impact is all the forces surrounding [the end of physical currency]: greater accounting of cash, innovation in currency and technology. That’s what’s impacting lives and creating business opportunities.”